Alex Home, manager of the Region of Waterloo International Airport, is proud of his airport's new terminal, expanded runways and the advantages he believes it has over Toronto's Pearson International.
Although some Pickering residents have suggested the Waterloo airport could be used instead of building a new airport in their community, Home does not believe that idea is feasible.
"Pickering will be built without a doubt," Home says. "There isn't an airport east of the GTA (Greater Toronto Area) at the present time. Oshawa has a very short runway and is constrained by residential areas. Pickering is best placed as a general airport in the east of the GTA."
The controversial Pickering proposal was announced in November by the Greater Toronto Airport Authority (GTAA), which operates Pearson. The airport, which would cost an estimated $2 billion to build, would open in 2012.
|Illustration courtesy of Region of Waterloo International Airport|
|A new terminal has upgraded the capabilities of the Region of Waterloo International Airport.|
The GTAA sees the new facility as a regional reliever that would be used for general purposes, recreational and company aircraft. A passenger terminal would not be open for another 25 years.
Home says the Waterloo airport, which unveiled $17 million in improvements last year and is run by the Region of Waterloo, has enough to do serving that area's residents and businesses.
"Last year, the GDP of our region was $16.9 billion - more than the Province of New Brunswick," he says. "A lot of major businesses are headquartered here and travel extensively."
The 50-year-old airport directly employs 20 full- and part-time workers, including those who keep the two runways free of snow. The east-west runway extends 7,000 feet and can accommodate Boeing 737s. The new 35,000-sq.-ft. terminal can process 250 passengers an hour.
"We have 40 tenants at the airport," Home says. "Together we employ between 200 and 300 people."
Excitement around the construction culminated last June when, just before the new terminal opened, U.S.-based Northwest Airlines announced it would schedule three daily flights between Waterloo and its Detroit hub.
Five months later, however, there was a setback when QuikAir, the airport's only other regularly scheduled carrier, cancelled its Waterloo-Ottawa-Montreal flights.
Airport officials said in a news release at the time that the decision was motivated by financial pressures on the airline's home base in Edmonton.
Waterloo airport also is used for charter flights and cargo deliveries. In 2004, there were 103,013 plane movements, putting it No. 16 on Nav Canada's list of Canada's busiest airports, just behind Quebec City (109,161) but ahead of London (95,233). Hamilton's John C. Munro Airport moved 82,243 planes in 2004.
Much of Waterloo airport's income comes from leases with tenants, which include four flight-training facilities and four charter companies as well as companies that service incoming planes.
One such tenant, Fliteline Services, handles a variety of tasks for incoming charter and cargo flights, including arranging ground transportation for executives, managing deliveries, handling customs, and maintaining and parking incoming planes.
Automotive companies such as Toyota and Chrysler have used the airport for just-in-time deliveries to their local plants.
Customs and Immigration Canada has facilities onsite.
Home still sees a future in passenger service, noting that Northwest continues to fly to Detroit. He says he believes his airport offers substantial benefits to local travellers compared to Pearson.
"If they go through Pearson, they look at things like a minimum 15-minute aircraft taxi time and a requirement to be at the airport at least an hour before takeoff to clear security bottlenecks," Home says. "And then consider driving to Toronto during rush hour. This adds five hours to any round trip.
"Here, you can get to the airport 30 minutes prior to takeoff, go to Detroit and access over 125 direct destinations within the (United) States."
Kitchener Mayor Carl Zehr agrees. "From a passenger standpoint, it is more convenient than going into Toronto. Unfortunately, at present, the Ottawa/Montreal runs are not there. Had they been there this week, I'd be using them.
"From a cargo standpoint, it means that local businesses have much easier, and closer access and faster access to products coming in, or for shipping products out, particularly for emergencies," Zehr says.
Home says the airport is speaking with other carriers about bringing in more service. "We are continuing negotiations with both domestic and vacation charter airlines."
Large and growing residential neighbourhoods bound the airport to the north and west. Although the airport averaged 11 noise complaints per month in 2004, most from Kitchener neighbourhoods to the west, Home says it tries to maintain good relations with the surrounding community.
"Most airports that have residential neighbourhoods beside them are going to face noise concerns," he notes. "But we have an aeronautical noise management committee, which has representatives from the city councils, the chambers of commerce and local residents. Also, the type of aircraft we're using are very good new aircraft, as opposed to some of the noisier aircraft of 10 to 20 years ago."
Currently, no groups are actively opposing the airport's growth plans.
The facility earns about $1 million a year from operations, although the Region of Waterloo subsidized the airport by about $2.8 million in 2004.
Zehr says it is a good investment, and he believes the airport will become self-sufficient.
"For those businesses that have their own planes, for passengers, the airport is a big timesaver and thus much more efficient and profitable," he says. "With the airport providing a number of movements for pleasure craft, it is both economically and socially a benefit to the community."
Despite its proximity to Toronto, Home doesn't see the Waterloo airport becoming an alternative to Pearson.
"All airports are in competition with other airports, but we are all in the business of providing a service for our local residents," he says. "We should compare ourselves with metropolitan areas in the United States, like Dallas and Chicago.
"You'll find there are a greater number of airports located near their centres than what we have up here."
(James Bow can be reached at email@example.com)